As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church, we also celebrate the many culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities with whom we have united on the way. Ben Tupou was at Sunnybank Uniting Church in Brisbane to witness the welcoming of a Cook Island community into this vibrant cross-cultural church.
They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues … no this is not a recount of what the disciples experienced on the day of Pentecost, but the Pentecost service held at Sunnybank Uniting Church. It all began with the contemporary call to worship hula dance to the song “How we worship” (from New Hope O’Ahu), a reflection of how this community lives out the Basis of Union’s call “to bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ which transcends cultural and economic, national and racial boundaries”.
For Stuart Kaiaruna, an elder of the new Cook Island community, it was this strong sense of “unity” that drew him to Sunnybank.
“The moment I entered I felt the spirit, I felt the joy … I looked around and I saw people from multi-cultural backgrounds joining together giving praise.
“I felt welcomed even though I didn’t know anybody. It was like I have known these people for a long time.”
Peter Edson, worship leader and member of the Sunnybank congregation for nearly 20 years, says that the church has worked hard towards becoming a welcoming, inclusive community.
“We have tried so hard to do our homework and to identify with other cultures. To say you have something in your Christian experience that is unique to you—and so how can we learn from that?
“If we are encouraging all cultures to belong, not just international cultures but all ages, genders … then we can grow together.”
Peter tells the story of a student who had visited their congregation who later returned to Taiwan. Her time in their congregation impacted her so much she started a connect group in her home country similar to one she had been involved with at Sunnybank.
This sort of impact is what Stuart Kaiaruna is hopeful for in the integration of the two communities.
“We are all looking forward to working together. My hope is to work together to bring our young ones back to church.”
The Sunnybank church community includes about 23 cultures, an international student ministry, Samoan language service and now a Cook Island language service.
Peter Edson sees cross-cultural ministry as more than bringing different groups together. For him, this is the culture of the cross.
“[Cross-culture] is where God takes us all … out of our own culture and into the culture he wants us to be—his culture,” he says.